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What a Drive-Thru Taught Me That My Therapist Couldn't

Photograph by Twenty20

This afternoon my 9-year-old got into our minivan and blurted out that he and his brother would be playing on technology when they got home from music lessons this afternoon.

This is when I turned around, really my head just spun around like the devil, and I said in a ridiculously low voice that I once used to scare off a coyote in the Hollywood Hills that was running after my pregnant self and two kids, "No! No! No you will fucking not. Don't start this with me."

My oldest gulped back tears "OK, OK," he said.

Rage took the steering wheel, not Jesus, like a country crooner begs, and I said, "Why don't you just go live with some fucking iPads?"

Then I took a deep breath and drove carefully past our Drive Like Your Kids Live Here sign and took the corner a bit too sharply and thought about how non-awesome I was.

My 5-year-old was quiet.

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He didn't cry and it made me sad. He's used to these moments.

"I'm sorry for yelling," I said, as I drove to our guitar class.

"You don't have to go live with iPads," hoping that the joke would re-bond us.

Lately, I feel like my 9-year-old is a 15-year-old. I feel like my 10-year-old marriage is 100 years old. I feel like I'm 20 pounds overweight and pushing 40. Well, I am technically almost 40.

I'm grasping things, walking around, going through the motions and the mundane, looking into the eyes of people my age and wondering/hoping for someone to divulge something revelatory and small to me that will let me in. I know I need counseling more frequently, but with 3 kids there are a lot of colds to be had in the fall, plus wanting to workout out, needing to work, etc. It's hard to make it to the therapist's office.

I'm a child of a mentally ill person who also is/was an addict, a person who also made me laugh harder than anyone for a time and who is now peacefully out of my life. And I can't blame him. I've lived 20 years not being under his roof.

Only I just crawled out under his thumb this year.

During my 5-year-old's lesson, I looked over at my oldest. He and I were waiting, he looked down at his thumb and rubbed it. "My substitute teacher told me I was horrible," he kind of laughed.

"What did he say?" I asked.

"He said I played horribly." I could tell that the teacher was not making a joke.

So in 40 minutes, my firstborn was told to go live with fucking iPads by me and that his playing was horrible by a sub. I slipped my iPhone into my purse and grabbed the small blank drawing paper I had brought with me.

"Here, draw about how you are feeling about having your mom yell at you and this substitute teacher." I smiled at him and kind of laughed.

"No," he said.

I grabbed a pen and began to draw, hoping if he saw me doing something other than being on my phone, he'd be interested.

This is what I drew.

He walked over and sat next to me and asked if he could add something. Of course he could.

This is what he added.

I laughed quietly over it and then we played tic-tac-toe and hangman. He giggled over the penis I drew on one of the hangman drawings. It was drawn out of a little sadness and a present from me really. Basically what a poop joke is to a 4-year-old.

When lessons were over for my 5-year-old, we walked silently to the minivan.

It was dark, and I was so thankful for the early darkness and cold. It's been so hot in Los Angeles, where we live. The drought seems to be sucking the life out of many of us.

We needed gas, and I told the boys I'd get them McDonald's. I pulled up to the drive-thru window and was at ease as I knew the exact conversation the guy behind the box would have. He would welcome me and ask me for my order and then repeat everything back to me.

Every time I go to McDonalds lately, I think of this and think that this is what my fancy shrink who charged us $250 an hour told us to do.

Listen, repeat back.

I tell myself this is what I've got to do more of in my life. Listen, repeat back. People just want to be heard. McDonald's knows what the fuck is up, they've been doing this for, I don't know, 50 years?

I place our order and he thanks me and tells me to pull forward.

Then I stare at the young guy in the window. I want to talk to him because he's made me feel at ease. But he's busy taking the next car's order. Seriously, those guys have the hardest job ever.

He puts the other guy on hold, and we make eye contact, and I hand him my credit card and I smile, hoping he'll understand he is doing a good job and that I don't normally feed my kids McDonald's, and I certainly won't be eating any of it even though it might look like I do by the size of my muffin top.

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There's no time for talking. He gives me back my credit card, and I smile. For a second I'm searching his eyes and face hoping he doesn't think I'm a cougar but really just trying to read him because this is all so much. There's so much I want to say, but this might be my only interaction with this person, ever. I hope his life is more pleasant than I seem to be making it for my own kids.

The kids and I drive back to the house, and I briefly turn the radio on but it's just noise. I turn it off, because my 5-year-old starts to talk and I want to hear him.

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